El Calafate

El Calafate, Argentina

Following our three-night stay in El Chalten, we hopped in the car and drove back to El Calafate (“coll-ah-fah-tay”). We stayed in Calafate for four nights which gave us three full days to explore.

We were excited for the next adventures and ready to have internet access again!

Itinerary

Below was our itinerary for El Calafate.

DayDetails
1Drove from El Chalten to El Calafate (3 hours)
2Toured Upsala Glacier via kayak
3Visited Perito Moreno, including trekking on the glacier itself
4Extra/unplanned day – re-visited Perito Moreno Glacier
5Flew to Buenos Aires (AEP)

El Calafate

With its estimated population of 20,000 permanent residents, Calafate felt like a huge city compared to Chalten.

Calafate is the base camp for tourists visiting Perito Moreno Glacier because it is the only incorporated town near Los Glaciares National Park.

The arrow denotes Calafate, and the circle denotes Perito Moreno Glacier

From a bird’s eye view, Calafate looks like a sprawling city; however, all of the restaurants, bars, and cafes are located on the east-west main road.

We kept our rental car for the duration of our stay in Patagonia. The hotel in Calafate was on the western perimeter of the town, and everywhere we needed to go was located on the other side of town. 

Most tourists descend on Calafate and rely on taxis and tour operators for their to’ing and fro’ing but unless you are staying in the city center, I’d recommend renting a car. A great feeling of freedom comes with having a car in a town like Calafate. 

Driving in Calafate can be stressful. There seemed to be no rules, few stop signs, and no traffic lights, at least none that I recall. It was a bit like driving in Greece.

Except for the main road, the roads are one-way streets, and they are poorly marked. It took me a few minutes of driving to see that the traffic direction was denoted by arrows next to the tiny street name signs.

Additionally, stray dogs chase cars. I’ve never seen anything like that in my life. Packs of dogs would randomly take off, chasing cars down the main road at speeds of 30 miles per hour. 

The dogs would jump at the cars as they were running and ran within a foot or two of the cars. There was no rhyme or reason for which cars the dogs chose to chase – it appeared random.

Accommodation

We stayed at Los Ponchos Hotel, and it was good, all things considered.

We booked the Gallery Room, which had two levels. The lower level had a kitchenette, a small seating area, and a bathroom. The loft contained a US king-sized bed and ample room for luggage; however, getting the luggage up and down the steep and narrow stairs proved dangerous.

Due to the hotel’s location being on the town’s perimeter, parking was ample, and it was quiet at all times of the day.

Probably the biggest upside to staying at a hotel on the western perimeter of the town is that we were one of the last to be picked up by the tour companies and one of the first to be dropped off.

What we’d do differently

We would do nothing major differently during our stay in Calafate. Perhaps we would’ve opted for breakfast at the hotel versus cooking ourselves, as it was difficult to cook in the kitchenette.

It is a long way to travel to Patagonia only for bad weather to potentially ruin any chance of seeing Perito Moreno Glacier in its entirety and paying for an extra hotel night to have an extra day is worth it, in my opinion.

We had good weather on the glacier mini trekking tour, but our time at the glacier observation decks was limited because we were part of a large tour group. We were happy to have a free/extra day that we could use to return to the glacier and spend as much time there as we wanted.

Eat, drink, and tour recommendations

Here are a few recommendations for Calafate.

Business nameTypeNotes
Olivia Coffee ShopCoffee
La Zaina RestaurantRestaurant
Restaurante Buenos CrucesRestaurant
La TablitaRestaurant
Upsala Kayak ExperienceTour company
Heilo y AventuraTour companyWe booked the mini trekking tour, which included free time to explore the observation decks of Perito Moreno Glacier

The next post on Argentina is here.

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